The Islamic State’s loss of control over their de facto capital, Mosul, has greatly hindered their ability to fulfill their goals of harboring foreigners and exploiting resources. But the United States should not get comfortable with the possibility of the Islamic State’s ultimate defeat. The conditions that led to the initial rise of extremism in the Middle East, poor politics and poor economics, are still very prevalent.
In order to most effectively setback the Islamic State, a U.S.-led coalition consisting of 68 countries has been gathering funds to begin a stabilization/peacebuilding process, facilitated by the United Nations. However, implementation is difficult due to regional conflicts (i.e. like the civil war in Syria), and the alienation of twenty-five million Sunni Muslims by their governments between Baghdad and Damascus, which is seen by the Islamic State as the perfect source of recruitment and support.
While the leaders in the Middle East are more likely to make decisions that will perpetuate the problems of extremism, the U.S. has the opportunity to support and mobilize efforts that will move Iraq in a stabilizing direction. To do so, the U.S. needs to invoke Iraqi Primxe Minister Haider al-Abadi’s “functioning federalism.” It gives Iraqis the responsibility to govern their own lives by giving them the resources to create security, services, and schools for themselves. While Sunnis have historically opposed federalism, they are now increasingly in favor of it, making this a promising option for the future of Sunnis in Iraq.
The first step to implementing functioning federalism is to implement a law that regulates Iraq’s militia, the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). The law would place the Shiite militia under state control, and out of politics and Sunni areas. Additionally, the Sunni PMF that is fighting against the Islamic State must stay on state payroll and be responsible for securing their territories.
The Trump Administration should then push for Iraq’s Sunni neighbors to engage with Baghdad to advance regional integration while promoting Sunni communities’ ambitions.
The Kurds also pose difficulties. The Kurdish region’s leader, Massoud Barzani, has called for a referendum on independence of the Kurds in September. They have also seized control of 70% of territories in Northern Iraq that are in dispute with the Arabs. In response to the Kurds’ desire for independence, the U.S. should negotiate a deal that allows the Kurds control over oil in their regions without the use of federal troops, and create a compromise over the disputed oil-rich territory of Kirkuk.
It was made clear after the U.S.’ departure from Iraq in 2011 that Iraqis mostly did not want a presence by the U.S. Now, however, there may be a slight desire to use the U.S.’ intelligence and counterterrorism efforts (not our troops) as support to move towards a more stable future.
For the original piece by New York Times op-ed contributor Antony J. Blinken, click here.